After a quick bite at the Baldacchino Gypsy Tent catching up with part one of our first week of Fringe reviews (I personally vouch for the hamburger), it’s time to dive back in with Patrick, Joanna, Kristin and Jenn.
Recapped: H Street Housewives, Lore, Double Freakquency, Tragedy Averted, Big River (and Other Wayfaring Ballets), Tell-Tale
H Street Housewives
With a show title like that you will certainly get some local pre-festival buzz. Nothing like pandering to DC residents: it’s as effective as pandering to theater people at Fringe. While there are a lot of DC-centric jokes including gluten-free free-range food obsessions, overachieving professionals, and the odd love for Whole Foods and Cheesecake Factory, there’s not a whole lot about the show that’s unique to H Street. Sure there is a Toki Underground or H Street Country club name drop here and there, but this show is really more “Real Housewives of Capitol Hill.” As a show it’s a funny sketch that could have been condensed to a three minute YouTube video. You’ll laugh, but the show runs out of steam over the 70 minutes. Also as a Clarendon resident I can laugh along with the rest during the many jokes about Arlington: I get it nobody wants to trek out here. But hey, at least it’s not Fairfax. Now that’s a hike.
I love stories and I love improv for the same reason. Both can go anywhere. Washington Improv Theatre (WIT) successfully combines these pleasures in Lore. Audience members yell suggestions from a list of predetermined words to see what type of story is to be told. The prompts don’t always mean what you think they mean, but that’s part of the charm. The night I went we heard love letters between a couple separated across the miles by irreconcilable differences, advice from a geriantologist, and a quasi-super hero story about a slightly vain man who smelled really nice. That last one was far funnier than it sounds. Every sketch had its moments, but two prompts pushed the actors to the top of their game. DOC felt like a short Christopher Guest mockumentary without any flat notes. How can I describe the prompt Bazooka? The best I can do is: physical poetry laced with menace and ennui. If you like improv, see Lore and be sure to scream “BAZOOKA!”
Wireless two-channel headphones broadcasting two separate music streams? What’s going on here, you may ask yourself as you enter the theater and are handed a headset. A little taste of interactive audio theater, that’s what. Adventure Productions has created a piece that’s light on actual plot but heavy on innovation. As a play about a caustic living situation between two eccentric roommates gone rogue and the two men pulled into their gravitational pull, it’s light on substance, but that’s not why you should go. By wearing a headset that allows you to switch between two separate channels of content, you can eavesdrop on private thoughts and between walls. It’s a fascinating concept, and I’d love to see it utilized in service of a more interesting plot. Quibble aside, the roomie battle royale is brought to life by a very funny cast who keep the action sharp and defined as you switch at will (or not at all, as I saw many audience members just stick to one angle). This kind of innovation is exactly what Fringe should be all about.
Cordelia and Desdemona are the apples of their fathers’ eyes, but they fight with them non-stop. Juliet moons over vampires and Twilight fan fiction. Ophelia can’t quite figure out what her odd but very deep boyfriend is going on about. They all can agree that Lady M is absolutely terrifying. It’s summer camp crammed full of canoe races, campfires, scary stories and silly games. Tragedy Averted asks: can they change their storied fates for the better? It also makes an interesting case about who Lady M actually is. I really enjoyed this one. The young cast is fantastic. They glide effortlessly between modern teen angst and Shakespearean prose. The jokes and dialogue fly fast, very fast. The few obvious gags drew the audience in even with the occasional groan: “Ophelia are you in tent 2B?” If your Shakespeare is rusty you might want to do a quick brush up. It will be worth it for the extra laughs.
Big River (and Other Wayfaring Ballets)
Blue jeans, pointe shoes, and Johnny Cash. That was what drew me to see Big River (and Other Wayfaring Ballets). Performed by MOVEiUS Contemporary Ballet in the historic Tivoli, it’s a lovely showcase of a local company helmed by choreographer Diana Movius and also featuring the choreography of Shelley Siller, Katya Vasilaky, and Kimberly Parmer, with two premieres – Siller’s Renforce and Parmer’s Big River. The pieces are beautifully danced by a talented all-female company. I’m frankly a pushover when it comes to dance performances, however, pretty much guaranteed to cry as Cash sings Trent Reznor’s Hurt while Catherine Roth moves fluidly across stage, or Sarah Waldrop simply evokes Cash’s unabashed love during First Time Ever I saw Your Face. Less successful, to my mind, were the Broadway smiles during Folsom Prison Blues Live. The standout piece of the evening seems to me to be Movius’s 2011 Learning to Run, mixing ballet and athleticism in a very striking way. I’m eager to check out more MOVEiUS.
“Good artists borrow, great artists steal.” I apologize, I can’t find the definitive source for that quote. I happened upon it just before heading into this adaptation of The Tell-Tale Heart from Grain of Sand Theatre. The quote feels appropriate on many levels. Tell-Tale is great! Yes, the play steals from Poe but the result is nothing like the story you read in school. It has been splintered, broken and rearranged into something far bigger than the tale of a crazed murderer tormented by his crime. Tell-Tale is a haunting look at intangible things. It contemplates ideas like love, generosity, desire and betrayal. I was thoroughly engrossed from start to finish. The writing had a first person literary feel which helped explore characters’ thoughts as well as actions. The cast was always present and involved even when they were not center stage. I walked away challenged to consider if the lies I tell myself can ultimately hurt those I care about. In the end, I think good plays tell a story well, while great plays challenge your world.
Still more to come…